Monday, August 4, 2014

I blog because I care

100 days.
That's how long members of the Zone 9 blogging coalition in Ethiopia have been in prison on fabricated charges of terrorism. Jan alerted me to this story back in May, and I've been following the plight of the six bloggers and three journalists ever since. Here's a quick overview of the facts from BBC News Africa:
Voices of solidarity for the imprisoned bloggers and journalists were mobilized recently to honor the unfortunate 100-day milestone, so I thought I'd add mine, regardless of its limited reach. I've been impressed with the recent public outcry beyond Ethiopia's borders. A global twitter campaign was coordinated on July 31 using the hashtag #FreeZone9Bloggers, and then on Saturday a vigil took place in Washington DC in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, where members of the Ethiopian diaspora lit 900 candles to recognize the 900 days spent collectively in detention by the "Zone9ers."
When Jan told me about the arrests of the bloggers, she suggested I track the developments via social media. She recommended familiarizing myself with the news in English initially, before switching to Amharic, just so I would get to know the vocabulary particular to the story. I decided to limit myself to Twitter, since Twitter itself limits users to 140 characters. Even so, this exercise proved more challenging than I expected. Here is a tweet that I brought to one of my Amharic lessons with Lulit:
Obviously, the name of the group appeared often in these tweets, sometimes as above—ዞን 9 (Zone 9)—and sometimes with the number spelled out—ዞን ዘጠኝ (Zone ZeTheng). Words like these that I am getting to know by sight help anchor me. The names of the bloggers also appeared often; Befekadu Hailu and Mahlet Fantahun are mentioned in the tweet above. Plus, I learned some vocabulary related to the legal system. For instance, ፍርድ ቤት (firdih bayt) means "judgment house" (i.e., courthouse) and ችሎት (chilot) means "assembly" or "court proceeding." Interestingly, Lulit had never seen the word ጦማርያን (Tomariyan) before, which she thought meant something like "members." I suppose Amharic continues to evolve in Ethiopia.

So the exercise continues to yield some linguistic benefit in that the story is helping me learn vocabulary around a theme. The word ነፃነት (netsanet), meaning freedom, shows up a lot, not surprisingly. And I learned from Lulit that her sister-in-law's ex-husband has the phrase ነፃነት ወይም ሞት ("freedom or death") tattooed on his body.

But following the story has also made me cynical about Ethiopia's civil society. I learned, for instance, that Ethiopia is the second worst jailer of journalists in Africa after Eritrea, according to Freedom House. Likewise, on the Freedom House's Map of Press Freedom (0=Best, 100=Worst), Ethiopia has the second worst Press Freedom Score (81) in Africa after Eritrea (94). Reporters Without Borders is slightly kinder to Ethiopia, ranking it #143 out of 180 countries on its 2014 World Press Freedom Index, just ahead of Cambodia and Myanmar. It puts Eritrea dead last at #180.

Zone 9 bloggers named their group indirectly after the Kaliti Prison on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Ironically, they argue that they are in prison just by living in Ethiopia. A Zone9er explains:
In the suburbs of Addis Ababa, there is a large prison called Kality where many political prisoners are currently being held, among them journalists Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu. The journalists have told us a lot about the prison and its appalling conditions. Kality is divided into eight different zones, the last of which — Zone Eight — is dedicated to journalists, human right activists and dissidents.
 When we came together, we decided to create a blog for the proverbial prison in which all Ethiopians live: this is Zone Nine.
Despite the lack of political freedom, a proverbial prison is still better than an actual prison, and I hope the innocent bloggers and journalists, along with all political prisoners, are released in the very near future.
This blog post is dedicated to them.


  1. I really like people who care about others..But it's very sour tragedy that everyone make them sad and anxious.Thanks for sharing this article with us.keep posting